For me, football brings back childhood memories of playing in the Grove, in a little cheerleader outfit, surrounded by my parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. And then I remember going to every game in college. Trying to guess who the celebrity would be to start the Hotty Toddy, dressing in our Sunday best (I can still navigate a grassy field in heels), and hearing the roar of the crowd after a great catch are memories still almost tangible in their clarity. And now, in that life always comes full circle kind of way, I take my own kids down to Oxford a few times in the fall for their own Grove experiences.
But I never played football. For me it was entertainment only. But for two of our writers’ husbands, who played all the way through college, football was so much more…
“What position did you play?” This is the most common question I get asked as I converse with my patients in my job. My day job is a Clinical Pharmacist at a local hospital in town, and typically football is a commonality I have with all my patients and helps me personalize our patient/provider relationship. As I sit and write this article, I can’t help but realize that my experience in playing football through my youth and into college allowed me the opportunity to have a career in the medical profession. It afforded me an opportunity to go to college on a scholarship where I obtained a bachelor’s and master’s degrees. It afforded me my dream of providing healthcare to the patients and families of my community.
Football taught me how to work on a team, dedicate myself to a common goal, and fortitude my ability to persevere in difficult times. The game helped me cope with the loss of my father at the age of 20. I wasn’t alone when I said my final good-byes at the conclusion of his funeral; over fifty of my brothers on my team were there in support of me.
Football is commonly called a game of inches; however, I would consider it a game of opportunities. My college position coach’s motto to his players was, and still is, “Opportunity: How may opportunities will you have today, and what will you do with them?” The greatest opportunity I received from the game of football is that it introduced me to the love of my life, Erin, my wife. Because of this beautiful, courageous, loving woman I also have the opportunity to be Dad to Olivia and Will, all of whom are the reason I try to better myself each and every single day.
I would say I owe the game of football everything.
I could see each blade of grass in high definition not four inches from my face. They stirred only with each breath exhaled as the whiteness of my facemask provided a stark contrast to the August greenery. That patch of grass, right at the upper limits of my focal depth, was my current universe. I focus on coach’s voice “….. where do you want to be in November? Where do you want to be in December? Where do you want to be …..?” I know that just beyond my periphery there are other guys, striving together for one goal, one purpose. Then I’m on my feet again. Burpees, the next ‘x’ amount of minutes are a blur and flurry of form angle tackling, position work, backs on backers, high knees, and brief moments of respite with Lemon Lime Gatorade.
My days playing football competitively in high school and college are long past, but those moments, that time, are hard to forget. Playing football, in part, has made me who I am today and I’m immeasurably better because of it. We all came from scattered farmsteads, small towns, and trailer parks of Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, and a splattering of Midwestern/Northeastern States, different backgrounds, yet not that different. We were molded together as a team by coaches who surrendered their lives to hours in the film room, locker rooms, and dry erase boards. And through all of that, we developed strong bonds of fellowship. We learned to never give up, to never back down, to face adversity, and to never believe that the situation was impossible. We were conditioned to respond to situations, never to react to them. The game drew us close together, teaching us perseverance and how to deal with adversity. They strengthened us mentally, and we learned something about ourselves that cannot be taught in the classroom.
Winning was the ultimate goal, and losing was never fun. Yet I now no longer remember the score on the scoreboard, nor the win/loss column. What I remember are the young men, my friends, the personalities, the look in their eyes as they gave all of themselves for one more snap, 15 more minutes. I remember the pranksters and the jokesters that always knew the perfect time to comment on the clouds or make some wisecrack to anger the coaches. I recall the locker room speeches being things of LEGEND. So many times I wish they had been recorded, as they were from the heart, and you could see the man behind them laid bare without pretense or posturing. I remember looking for familiar faces in the packed stadium stands and seeing my neighbors, my teachers, my school friends, owners of restaurants, farmers, and those who stopped you in the grocery store to wish you luck. The memory of community who came out to support our football teams under those Friday night lights or humid Saturday afternoons, those are some of the memories that the game has given me. And now, at 39 years old, I can still hear those young men, though some are no longer with us. Our lives have gone in many different directions, but as I see their faces or hear their names, I am drawn back to the times we shared on the fields of grass.
The National Football Foundation (NFF) launched Football Matters to celebrate the positive impact the game has made on millions of players, coaches, administrators, volunteers, and fans nationwide. Debuting in February 2018 at www.footballmatters.com and on social media, Football Matters spotlights and explains the many benefits that football brings to communities, schools, families, and individuals and the opportunities it provides to those on and off the field and at every level. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram.